Marcel Kittel may not have won a race in 2018, but the German sprinter is confident that his maiden victory is just around the corner.
Kittel moved from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin with the overwhelming consensus that the sprinter would immediately fit in with his new surroundings. Kittel, however, has only shown glimpses of his best form and it has taken longer than expected for the Katusha leadout train to fire on all cylinders.
Although there is certainly no talk of panic in the team, Kittel's lack of wins are stark contrast to Elia Viviani's position. The Italian replaced Kittel at Quick-Step and has already won four bunch sprints and the overall at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Kittel has raced 10 days less than Viviani this year, having started his campaign at the Dubai Tour before racing in Abu Dhabi. Now at Tirreno-Adriatico, he believes that a win is close.
"It's clear that every sprinter wants to win. I want to go for that victory, and being that close so many times doesn't make it 'easier' but in the end, I can't change things," he told Cyclingnews.
"I'll always try my best, and we're taking the positive energy into the next stages. I'm 100 percent convinced that the victory is coming."
Kittel showed some of his best sprint legs on stage 3 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, coming from a long way back to finish second by the width of a wheel. It's not just about him, however, and it has taken time for Katusha to click into gear. Despite several training camps, nothing compares to genuine competition in order to help a squad bond and find unison.
"If you look to the level of the season, I've competed against the world's best. There's always been a little thing that's been wrong. Sometimes it's been luck, like when I lost my chain in Abu Dhabi and then on the third stage, we tried to make some changes in leadout and that was a learning process. That's still going on," he said.
"We were close in Abu Dhabi, and I have to admit that in the first two days there I wasn't feeling great. When I look to the whole progress, it's going in the right direction. We're now a team here and we're building our structure and we're looking at how we can make things work for us. That takes some time.
"If you want to compete against the best in the world and their teams, then you need to be a team that has that level of experience of riding with each other. That's what we're creating."
Kittel was down to race Paris-Nice this week, but a last-minute switch saw him head to Italy instead. He is without Marco Haller – a regular leadout man – who remained on the roster for the French race. Rick Zabel will step in at Tirreno, and Kittel thinks that he has two chances to win in Italy.
"I'm feeling good after Abu Dhabi, having taken some days off. It's a good team here. It was a short-term decision to change the race plan but it was the right one. We have a good squad here for the sprint and team time trial, and good support for [Ilnur] Zakarin in Paris-Nice. There are two sprint opportunities here as opposed to only one real one in Paris-Nice, and it's my first time in Italy since the 2016 Giro d'Italia, I think."
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